VATICAN CITY — As a participant in Villanova University’s Vatican internship program, I had the opportunity to be a part of a groundbreaking project.
This Monday, in celebration of the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Vatican website launched a state-of-the-art virtual tour of the basilica.
The tour of St. John Lateran is only a small part of a monumental project in which a team of Villanova University professors and students photographed the Sistine Chapel, the newly resorted Pauline Chapel, the Basilica of St. Mary Major and the Necropolis of St. Rosa.
Having labored long and hard on the virtual reality tour, the launch is a sort of personal triumph for me.
To allow the Villanova team to photograph everything in peace, officials kept the public out of the buildings, except at St. John Lateran. The Villanova interns and I worked as the photographer’s personal police squad. We made sure no curious tourists or aspiring models got in the way of the cameras. This was particularly difficult because people in St. John Lateran had no qualms about walking right up to the lens and inspecting the state-of-the-art equipment.
I was assigned to help Villanova Digital Media Coordinator Chad Fahs photograph the front entrance of the basilica. Shooting the outside of the basilica had a different set of challenges; the open space and large crowds make crowd control more difficult. It seemed as though every time Chad was about to begin the shooting process a large herd of tourists was walking right in front of the camera on their way into the basilica.
The highlight of the photo shoot was Paul Wilson’s face after he finished the apse. Paul is the director of the Villanova University’s Vatican project. He is a seasoned veteran who has more than 40 years of experience in photography. After the shoot, he was physically unable to suppress the huge smile on his face. The only words he could let out were, “We got it.”
“It’s monumental. Michelangelo and other artists created these masterpieces and we are showing them to the world.” Paul’s words capture the work he and the team of Villanova students and professors are doing to create virtual tours of important sites throughout the Vatican.
Wilson was, right we got it. The Villanova team captured what it is like to be inside the basilica. Save the motion-sensitive controls that could cause some headaches and nausea before you get accustomed to them, the virtual tour is quite impressive. The photographs are crystal clear and the people actually add perspective to the basilica’s size.
The launch of the tour of St. John Lateran is not the end of the story. One can’t help but think how impressive the virtual tours of the Sistine Chapel, the Pauline Chapel, St. Mary Major and the Necropolis of St. Rosa will turn out.
(Gustavo Solis currently works as an intern in the CNS Rome bureau.)